Chapter 22

The Garbage Wars

 

"So, how do you read the public response, Alderman Powers?" Yerkes leaned forward on his elbows at his massive desk.

Johnny "de Pow" stood at the forest green roll- blind, looking gloomily down on the bustling activity on Michigan Boulevard. "They ain't movin' any faster than usual down there. I think your story scarcely dented His Honor the Mayor's cast-iron hide. . ."

Yerkes nodded, his silver hair not ruffled in the least by this untoward bit of news. In fact, Yerkes never appeared more dapper nor more in control than just now, as he beat his fingers together pensively.

". . .and the opposition already had their story made up about how putting that skirt Emma Klimova into Our Carter's warm embrace was a set- up," Powers went on, tapping at the window pane and startling two amorous pigeons. "And you know what she went and told the Trib?

"No, I haven't read the papers yet," Yerkes said. "Go on, tell me."

"She sah. . .ah. . ." Powers let out an explosive sneeze and honked at his nose with his handkerchief. "Excuse me, Mister Yerkes," he drew a small bottle out of his pocket and squeezed a droplet into each nostril. "but it's me sinuses. They're actin' up terrible this summer. . ."

"Yes, yes, go on! What did she say?" Yerkes barked, impatient with all the snorting and nose-spraying.

"Oh! Back to as I was sayin'," Powers went on as though he hadn't heard Yerkes' tone. "That little chit Emma said that she 'regretted being the unwilling actor in such a scheme, but that she was glad to say that when women had more rights, plenty of this corruption would end. . .and people like the ward bosses and Yerkes couldn't get a hold on a poor girl.' Poor girl, my eye-tooth!" Powers wondered aloud if there weren't some way to make Emma rue the day she blackened Mister Yerkes' name to the Trib. Maybe a slip down some stairs. . .

"NO, John, you leave that to me," Yerkes smiled amiably. "And how's your new driver working out?"

Powers brightened up. "Now that was a good idea, having Tony work off his debt instead of my boys working him over. He works like the devil —you know, the way your hunkies all do—he's been curryin' my horses so much that they shine."

"Tony is Emma's brother, Yerkes said, filing away at one of his fingernails with rapt attention.

"He is? Why, Klima—Klimova—why didn't I think of it? Well, now, don't that beat. . ."

"Don't it, indeed?" Yerkes stood up, looking beyond Powers to the office door. Anton poked his head around the door.

"Begging your pardon," he said in a pinched, nervous voice, "Mister Powers, you told me to remind you about that special session at the council chambers. We should be leaving now. . ."

Yerkes strode around the desk and called out to Anton. "Stay a minute! We need your help."

Anton came into the room, holding his driver's cap in both hands in front of himself. "Me? My help?" he looked at Powers, who honked his nose loudly and shrugged.

"This is our man, Johnny," said Yerkes, as if that explained everything.

"What man?" Powers asked, almost unintelligibly, his nose still in the handkerchief.

"Our new appointee to the restructured Streets and Sanitation Department. The one who's going to replace Jane Addams. Isn't that right, young man?" Yerkes beamed at the brilliance of his plan.

"Him!?" Powers stood up suddenly and sneezed again. What do we know about him?" Powers gave a violent swipe at his nose with the cloth.

"We know two things," Yerkes said in a pleasant tone, holding up two fingers and ticking them off, didactically. "We know that the newspapers have nothing on this young man, and, secondly—ah—I'll discuss that later." Yerkes went over to Anton, took his hand and shook it. "How would you like to make more money than you're making as Mister Powers' driver?"

"I think I would like that. sir," said Anton, "but what must I do?"

"You would have to supervise the men who cart off the trash from Ward One and do some other work concerning street repair," explained Yerkes in a slow, patient voice.

"But. . . Powers exploded at the very idea, thinking of Billy Skakel. "what about old Billy, then? His many long years. . . ."

"The Trib and the other papers have too much on dear old Billy! Use your head, John!" Yerkes nodded at Anton. "On him there, they have nothing."

"All right, but you're getting a real pig-in-a-poke with this one here!" Powers pulled a ledger off Yerkes' desk and walked over to Anton, flipping it open. "Look at these entries! Do you even know how to keep a ledger, son?"

Anton shook his head. "No, but I learn awful quick."

"That's excellent, Anton," said Yerkes, and then, to Powers, "Don't go filling his head with meaningless details, John. Mansfield can show him that in an hour or two." Yerkes patted Anton on the shoulder.

Powers honked his nose again to keep from being disagreeable by arguing the point.

"And all you will have to do is keep a record of the wagonloads of rubbish hauled off by Mister. . .h. . .

"Milligan," said Powers, with a sour glare at Anton.

"Sometimes you must enter wagonloads that didn't actually get taken," Yerkes smiled briefly. "but that is all in Mister Powers' bailiwick and he knows better than I to explain it all to you."

"Well, come on with you now. We mustn't miss that vote. I'll explain all the formalities to you on the way to the chambers," Alderman Powers said, shaking his head as he spoke. He didn't know how he would break this bad news to Billy Skakel, to whom he had promised the job.

After the other two left, Yerkes sat looking at the pale yellow blades of sun as they cut across his office carpet. He finally pulled the green roll-blinds all the way up and prepared to wire his broker in New York to buy that second Whistler painting. The one with the romanitc fog on the Thames.


 

The Bath spat his toothpick decorously into the big, brass spittoon as he strode up the aisle of the City Council chambers and onto the speaker's platform. He was a perfect vision in his mountain green dress suit, cut in conservative fashion.

A hush fell over the crowd up in the gallery as the Bath rustled his sheaf of papers. They knew that tonight's entertainment included the latest chapter in the Garbage Wars. But the Bath had another issue on his mind. He meant to call for a vote on the Cosmopolitan Gas Ordinance before the Powers forces had time to buy enough votes to get the 50-year franchise passed for their boss, Yerkes. The man was no native Chicagoan, after all.

He felt no limitations on how much he could milk from the city. There were limits, after all. The "new man" that was Bathhouse John sometimes had trouble believing that he had gone to the other side: the side of Evanston matrons and tea-cozies, of Bertha Palmer and the Civic League. But—Blast it!—what was a man to do when rank interlopers such as these came like a plague of locusts into Chicago? The Bath's thoughts ran over his new morality as he checked for his votes on the Council's benches.

A little girl just then tittered at the sparkling- raimented Bathhouse John.

"He looks like an Evanston lawn, kissed by the early morning dew!" exclaimed the child's mother, giving the child a swipe on the ear. "Mind your manners, you!"

"Yes, doesn't he shine like an opal?" the woman next to her asked no one in particular, not to be outdone.

Alzina Stevens, sitting near the two admiring women, heard the glowing remarks about Bathhouse John and kept her own, not-so- glowing, thoughts to herself. Next to Alzina was Florence Kelley, Factory Inspector for the State of Illinois. Both Alzina and Florence knew that Powers would try something at this council session, but neither knew what he had in mind.

They knew that Bathhouse John, for whatever reasons, was going to try to stop Powers, since he had decided to reform himself. They didn't quite trust Bathhouse John, but they actively detested Powers. The whole panoply of walrusy manhood below was not a cheery spectacle to the women from Hull House up in the gallery. Alzina sighed and propped her head on her arms on the railing in front of her. She could guess, from the sheaf of bills that Bathhouse John was rifling like a Blackjack deck, this would be a long session.

"Your Honor," the Bath commenced, glancing up at Mayor Harrison, and swaying on his feet, "I would like to bring up a vote on the issue of Cosmopolitan Gas. . ."

"Point of order!" interrupted Johnny "de Pow", on his feet and waving his arm.

"Go on," said Mayor Harrison, "The alderman has the floor and you will wait your turn, Powers."

"Breach of agenda, sir!" shouted Powers. "First we have the unfinished motion to restructure Streets and Sanitation!" Boos greeted this from Alzina and her friends up in the gallery. Powers sat back down with a thud, craning his neck to see who was booing and whether his votes were all present.

"But your honor!" objected Bathhouse John.

"No, Mister Powers is correct, Alderman," shouted Mayor Harrison over the rising din of booing and hissing from the gallery. "We need to call for a vote."

"Vote! Vote!" cried all the Powers men, as the Mayor rapped his gavel.

The vote taken, the Powers forces had their way and the motion to restructure the Streets and Sanitation Department passed 49 to 19.

Johnny Powers rose to his feet immediately and barked over the continued cries of anguish and dismay from the social workers in the gallery, "As the majority leader of this Council, I appoint Anton Klima to fill. . ."

"Your HONOR! I must object to this perfidious appointment!" Bathhouse John was up on his feet, his cheeks working in and out like a pump organ bellows. He stuck a hand in his vest and fancied that he looked a bit like Thomas Jefferson debating the preamble to the Constitution.

"Fraud!" "Scoundrel!" shouted Florence Kelley and the others from Hull House up in the gallery.

"I WILL clear this chamber of spectators if the rules of order are not preserved!" shouted Mayor Harrison and he rapped his gavel. The Council Sergeants-at-Arms began moving toward the women in the gallery.

This had a very soothing effect on Alzina and the others, so Alderman Powers proceeded with his speech.

"As I was saying," smiled Powers in Bathhouse John's direction, "I appoint Anton Klima to fill the new post of Superintendent of Streets and Sanitation for Ward One."

The social workers looked at each other in positive disbelief. "Who is going to tell Jane that our whole project is wrecked?" Alzina Stevens shook her head of short, blond ringlets, tears welling up into her eyes.

She brushed them off angrily.

"Not only has Jane lost the appointment, but to whom?" Florence Kelley raspily whispered. "Look at that young puppy strutting up to be sworn in! One of Yerkes' minions, that's a certainty!"

"I'm beginning to feel light-headed from the heat in this hall," answered Alzina. "On top of it, the young puppy there is our Emma's brother!" She struck at her temple with her hand, as if she had, until now, overlooked something of vast importance.

"Where IS our Emma?" asked Florence in a perturbed tone.

"She stayed back at Hull House to prepare that ceremony for the 'Solly Saranoff' fountain dedication tomorrow. The fountain to all the children who died because of the filth in the air. . .ronic, isn't it?" said Alzina.

Bertha Palmer, the socialite, sitting next to Florence, seemed in a daze. She just continued to slowly twirl her lace parasol with an idle hand. Suddenly, she turned to Alzina and Florence. "Let's go!

I will tell Jane the bad news myself," she said.

"Who is going to tell the 'good news' to Emma?" asked Florence.

"I suppose I should," said Alzina. "She's been working with me as a translator and — truly — I don't think she knows a thing about this, She and Anton are barely speaking." The women drove to Hull House largely in silence.


 

Emma sat with the little cat Sally on her lap, repeating the day's agenda to Jane, who seemed to be dozing. She looked up at the stage where there were some bas reliefs of classical work by Phidias. How wonderful to celebrate this victory over graft with such a beautiful fountain: the blue tiled fish, the flowing water. . .She began reading the agenda again. "And then the Hull House Boys' Band will play a quadrille. . . Emma looked up as the women filed into the meeting room.

Jane became more alert and both greeted the women arriving. Emma waved a hand at the long table, which was spread with speeches and agenda items.

"We're almost finished, Alzina! Nice of you to call, Missus Palmer.

Let me take your shawl. . .

Florence cut in. "We're almost finished in more ways than one, my dear," she looked over at Bertha Palmer.

"Ah. . .es!" Bertha pulled a chair in front of Jane's and took her hand. "It is my disagreeable duty to say that Alderman Powers succeeded tonight in removing your appointment as Sanitary Commissioner of the First Ward."

"So soon?" Jane looked from one face to the other, unable to think of more to say.

"Men such as he is move quickly when there's graft to be gained!" snapped Alzina.

"You haven't named the replacement, Alzina," Florence said with a hint of resentment rising under her honeyed tones. All the women turned to look at Emma.

"It is your brother, Emma," said Alzina.

"Anton! I can't. . ." Emma looked at Jane and could say nothing more.

She herself was still officially on Yerkes' payroll, whether or not she ever turned in another story. Any words of condemnation stuck in her throat. What was the difference between the two of them, after all?

Emma hid her face in her hands.


 

On her way up the rickety stairs early the next evening, Emma's mind hovered at a distance from the wailing babies and the boiling cabbage smells. She didn't know why she had come. As she saw her mother's timid hand unlatch the door, she had an urge to run back down the stairs.

"Maminka, to je Emma!" Emma gasped, losing her breath and courage at once, fingering her little cloth handbag.

"So, Maminka, where is Anton?" Emma asked, smiling.

"He went to Billy Boyle's Chop Shop for dinner," explained Maminka. "They are celebrating."

"Celebrating. . ." repeated Emma dully.

Maminka took the cover off a plate of dumplings. "Eat something. You know, it will be awhile."

"I. . .just ate," Emma said, "running her fingers on the top of her bag.

Maminka said that Julka was at her English lesson. So many lessons. America was not cheap. But now. . .! Now there would be money for Julka, money to buy that two-flat up the street. Did Emma know? Anton had enough for a down payment. Maminka had a terrible joy in her eyes. She had reached a safe place at last. "To je krasny! That brownstone — so pretty! And we can rent upstairs. Live in basement. . ."

"You know how Anton got all that money?" Emma blurted out.

"I don't care how," Maminka said flatly. "He didn't steal."

"He only kills, never steals," Emma muttered, looking down at her bag.

"What?" Maminka demanded.

Emma explained that Anton's new job, his "so wonderful job" was to replace Jane Addams and to run the garbage collections as crookedly as always. "How could he do this?" Emma stood up, wringing her little bag between her hands.

"For why we should give up such good money?" Maminka laughed. "If not Anton, someone else would replace Jane Addams!" She shot a hard look at Emma.

"Tatinek. . ." Emma started to remind Maminka about all the things that her father said that they would do in the Novy Svet, the New World.

"Tatinek is DEAD!" shouted Maminka. "Or have you not noticed?"

"I have noticed," Emma said quietly.

"You know why I came here?" Emma looked up with teary eyes. "To tell you about a fountain to all...the...children who died." She choked back her sobs. "Who died from filthy air. . .and from greed! Maminka, do you want to have that on your conscience?"

"Don't talk about conscience to me!" spat Maminka. "Where was conscience when he lay here dying, your father? Where was conscience when Julka needed a doctor and there was no one? NO! Never again will I hear about conscience!"

Talking seemed useless. Emma started to get up to go. Maminka put out a hand. "Such a little thing forgiving is. Why can't you and Anton forgive each other?" Maminka looked at Emma pleadingly. "You can't see Anton through my eyes. . .He tried and tried to find tile setting work for nine months. All over Chicago, up and down Michigan Boulevard he was walking until his shoes wore through. He was looking like silenec, madman!"

Emma shrugged.

"Hah! You shrug! What do you think that does to Anton's mind? I thought he might throw himself from bridge over Chicago River." Maminka nodded out the window facing the river.

"Who, Anton?" Emma smiled. "Kill himself?"

"Don't laugh. I am mother. I feel things," Maminka shrank into herself, recalling.

Emma looked at this little, shrunken woman. "Oh, I have seen enough looks from Anton, believe me, Maminka!" said Emma, looking away from her mother.

"So, hloupa, what I am trying to say is that Anton is man. He needs to have job," she poked a finger into the flesh of Emma's arm. "You want I should tell my boy, 'You should go kill yourself?'"

"So, instead of that, he will take money and watch as the filth kills other peoples' children!" said Emma, slamming her hand on the table.

Maminka didn't answer immediately. When she did, the words were slow and deliberate. "Why is it that always from my mouth comes bread?"

"What?" asked Emma.

"When some fine ones want to reform, comes the bread not from their mouths but from mine and my family's. . ." said Maminka,as if sincerely asking, as if philosophical in her desire to know.

"Nerozumim...I don't know," said Emma. "Tell Anton I would like to talk to him. Now I must go, because I am too tired for arguing. . ."

"I asked you to come and argue?" Maminka stood by the door, with her hands on her hips.

"Just tell him I came," said Emma as she went out the door.

"I'll tell him you were here," said Maminka, her tired eyes peering after Emma as she went down the stairs. Then she closed the door with a loud click.


 

Emma got to her little room at Hull House around eight that night. She unpinned her hat and placed it on the hook near the small mirror. As she passed the mirror, Emma noted the blank look in the two dark-circled eyes that stared back at her. The cloth handbag sat on the dresser. Emma opened the bag and slowly took out the little pistol she had brought at the pawnshop.

For a long time she sat holding the pistol on her lap. The last rays of the summer sun had long faded and a puff of Lake Michigan breeze moved the lace curtain. Finally, she stood away from the bed and placed the gun at the center of her chest.

"Emma! I just heard—!" The blast startled Alzina as Emma slumped to the floor.

"Get a doctor, somebody!" Alzina called out into the hallway where all the residents were poking out their heads in bewilderment.

Florence Kelley stood by the bed and took Emma's pulse, after the doctor made his diagnosis. "Well, she made a botched job of it is all I have to say. It's only a flesh wound." Gruffly, Florence asked Alzina to give her a hand undressing Emma to clean the wound. "This one is nothing. In the mines they're always getting shot up on some picket line or other." Florence had worked as a trained nurse in a minefield in her younger days and was constantly making comparisons with the wounds workers got in Chicago and those she recalled from the mines. Large and husky Florence did most of the lifting, while Alzina struggled with the buttons and sashes on Emma's dress. The wound dressing completed, Alzina sat on the little chair by the bed. "I startled her," she said. "She was turning as it went off."

"If we can keep her from getting all infected, she'll probably pull through. Now this! There's never been trouble like this at Hull House, until she came."

"Hush, Florence!" Jane Addams chided, as she limped into the room, leaning heavily on her ebony cane. "She's stirring. I think she heard you."

Florence just waved a hand dismissively.

Jane approached the bed and looked down where Emma lay, her deep- green eyes slightly opened. "Emma, child, the doctor thinks you will get better. You hear me?"

Emma heard a rushing in her ears that was punctuated by some human voices. The roaring was dying down. She heard the last thing that Jane said. That voice. . .so familiar. . .Emma moved her lips, attempting to speak to the voice that she couldn't quite place, "Was the only way. All that I knew. . .or him or for me. The only way."

Jane had to lean down over Emma to make out her words. "Yes, I know. Now go to sleep. . ." The women except for Alzina went out into the hall. Alzina sat by Emma's bed for the rest of the night.


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